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Albert ~ by Bruce Cook

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2023 6:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

_____________________________Albert
__________________________by Bruce Cook
_________________________________________________

It was pouring so hard I thought the raindrops were going to knock me to the ground. It hadn't rained this hard since Noah built the ark. But that wasn't the weirdest thing about my walk home from school that day. The weirdest thing was that crazy dog that kept following me.

He was a gray dog with short hair, and he stood a foot tall. That's about knee high to a twelve-year-old kid like me. He stayed about twenty feet behind me all the way home, walking when I walked, and stopping when I stopped. He never strayed off the sidewalk, he never sniffed at any of the trees, and he never took his eyes off me. It was spooky.

I was hurrying home through the pouring rain, so I wasn't a bit tempted to stop and pet a strange wet dog. When I got home, Mom was waiting at the door with a big towel and stern lecture about taking my umbrella to school when I knew it was supposed to rain. I couldn't really argue with her because the last thing she had said to me that morning was, "Do you have your umbrella in your book bag"? And the last thing I had said was, "Yes, ma'am."

Which was a big fat lie because I had forgotten it, and I didn't want to miss the school bus for the third time that week.

So I accepted the towel gratefully, and I endured the lecture silently, and I just nodded and mumbled "Sorry, Mom," every now and then — which I knew was the best way to get it over with before I caught pneumonia while I stood there dripping wet.

I had to wait until she finished drying me off before I could say a word about the weird dog. When I finally got done describing just how weird the dog was, Mom looked liked she didn't even believe there was a dog, much less that he was as weird as I claimed.

But when she went to the back door and looked outside, there the dog was — looking even weirder than I remembered him. He was sitting ten feet from the door, a pitiful picture of canine hardship, his gray hair plastered to his skinny body like a wet shirt on a drowned man. He was staring at us with such a forlorn look that I knew my tender-hearted mother might take him in and put me back out in the rain for acting so insensitive towards a suffering animal.

And so, the next thing I knew she'd brought the weird dog inside, dried it off with the big towel, and turned it over to me with strict orders to take it upstairs to the bathtub for what Mom referred to as, quote — The first decent bath this poor baby has ever had, bless it's heart! — unquote.

Fifteen minutes later, after giving the dog a thorough wash and rinse in the tub, I lifted him out and stood him on the bathmat while I dried him off. He just stood there, quiet as a country cousin who didn't know what to make of the Big City, while I rubbed him all over with a big white towel. The fact that he didn't look much better now than he had when he was dirty was just one more odd thing about this weird dog.

But I figured this was just part of a day that couldn't get any more bizarre.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. The weirdness of this day was just getting started. As I finished drying off the dog, I smiled at him and said, "There you go, pal. All clean."

So help me God, the dog looked straight at me and spoke in a clear, pleasant voice.

"Thanks. I feel much better now."

There was a long moment of silence in the bathroom while nobody said anything. What do you say to a dog which has just thanked you for giving it a bath? After a dumbfounded moment I realized that the answer to that question was pretty obvious.

"You're welcome," I whispered in a voice that shouldn't have even worked in view of the situation, which was insane. Then I began to wonder if maybe it wasn't the situation that was insane — maybe it was me.

"Ummm . . . Did you just talk to me?" I was afraid to ask the question, because I was afraid to hear the answer.

The dog looked at me with those big brown doggie eyes and drew a deep breath before he spoke in a patient tone.

"Yes. I said thank you. Just common courtesy."

I realized he was trying to state the obvious without sounding insulting. I nodded and smiled and sat down slowly onto the bathroom floor -- because all of a sudden there were these little swirling black dots that swarmed around the bathroom and told me I was close to fainting. I stared at the dog for a moment, still unable to accept the amazing fact that I had just given a bath to a talking dog.

"Let me ask you one more question before I decide to believe this," I told the dog. "Are you real? Or am I dreaming?"

The dog cocked his head to one side and said, "No, actually I'm dreaming. You're the one who isn't real." Then he pretended to be astonished. "Oh, my gosh! A talking boy! I can't believe it. I've never met one of those before!"

That did it. The dog was definitely real. I didn't have enough imagination to make up something like this. The dog's voice sounded like a middle aged man, with a soothing tone. He reminded me a little of my Uncle Ralph, who was famous for saying funny stuff that cracked everybody up at family gatherings like Thanksgiving.

I had a hundred questions I wanted to ask the dog, so I picked this one. "Are you the only talking dog in the world?"

He looked sad for a moment. "Far as I know, I am. Guess maybe I'm some kind of mutation. Like in those X-Men comics."

"Wow," I said softly. So, my new pet wasn't just a talking dog — he was an X-Dog!

But wait a minute. Maybe Mom wouldn't even let me keep him. She had only let him come in because he followed me home and he looked so pitiful standing out in the rain.

The dog laid down on the bathmat and put his head on paws, gazing at me curiously. I gazed back just as curiously for a moment while I tried to decide what to ask next. The dog must have realized how baffled I was, so finally he said, "Aren't you going to ask me my name?"

"Oh!" I said, feeling foolish. "Right. Okay, what is your name?"

"Albert. What's yours."

"Jeffrey." Without even thinking I put my hand out to shake his. Then I yanked it back when I realized how stupid that was. Albert didn't have hands.

But he just chuckled and held up his paw. "No problem, Jeff. I learned how to shake hands when I just a puppy. And you wouldn't believe how many people have tried to teach me that dumb trick again and again."

I took hold of his paw and shook it a few times. Then I said, "Just how old are you?"

Albert replied a bit stiffly. "Hey, that's a rather personal question, young man. But since you asked, I'm 52 years old."

"Really'? I was a bit shocked. My grandfather was about that age.

"Yep. But in dog years, of course. In human years I'm just 9 years old. Next May."

I smiled at him. "Oh, right. For a second I thought you were older than me. I'm twelve."

"Yeah, I know," Albert said, nodding his shaggy head slowly. "I also know that you're in the 6th grade, and your good at reading, but your lousy in math and science."

I just stared at Albert for a moment, my eyes big and round. In a whisper, I said, "Hey, can you read minds, Albert?"

"Yep, sure can."

"Really?"

"No, not really. Just kiddin'. I was sniffing around the playground the other day at school and heard you talking to that girl you like, Gloria." Then he lowered his voice and spoke in a man-to-man tone as he said softly, "By the way, she likes you, too."

"She does?" I said in amazement. Then I became suspicious. "Are you kiddin' me again?"

"Nope. Not this time. She really likes you." Albert started studying one of the claws on his right paw, and he picked at it casually with his other paw the way a person does when they're cleaning their fingernails. He wasn't even looking at me while he said, "She doesn't want you to know, because that gives her an advantage. Girls are like that."

I leaned forward and whispered to him, even though there was nobody around to hear my eager question. "How do you know she likes me?"

Albert looked up from his paw cleaning and gave me a sly look. In a secretive voice he said, "Let's just say I have a nose for these things. I noticed that she put on more perfume when she saw you coming over to talk to her on the playground. That's always a sure sign that a girl likes you."

This was good news, and I was grinning broadly. "Cool! Thanks, Albert."

Albert went back to cleaning his paw. "Ah, don't mention it, kid." Then his voice turned serious. "Now, I need to ask you a question. Are you going to talk your mom into letting me stay here? I'm sort of between homes right now, and this one seems pretty nice. With the way it's raining out there, I'm not too eager to hit the streets tonight."

I was amazed by the question. "Sure, you're welcome to stay, Albert!"

"Great." He sat up and puffed his chest out a little. "Just so you'll know, I can roll over, play dead, speak on command, and shake hands. And even though I'm 52 years old, I can still catch a Frisbee five feet off the ground."

"Awesome! Come on, let's go ask Mom right now. When you show her you can talk, she'll be glad to let you stay!" I got up from the floor and headed out door.

Albert chuckled as he rose slowly from the bathmat and said, "Hold on, junior, let's get something straight. You can't tell anybody I can talk. Not your mom, your dad, or any of your siblings — if you've got any. That's gotta be our little secret, okay?"

I just stood there, dumbfounded. Surely Albert as kidding. Not tell anybody? I'd bust a gut if I tried to walk around with a secret like that. In a pleading voice, I said, "Hey, come on, buddy! That's not fair. You can't ask a 12 year old kid to have a talking dog and not tell anybody about it! That would be like winning a hundred ka-jillion dollars in the lottery -- and then not spending any of it."

Albert sounded a like my dad when as said firmly, "Sorry, buddy, but those are the rules. I'm not going to utter a word in front of anybody except you. That's the deal. Take it or leave it."

My face flushed red and my fist balled up at my side. This was cruel and unusual punishment. There were laws against treating kids like this. I gritted my teeth and didn't say a word as I turned and headed towards the stairs. Albert followed me out of the bathroom and down to the kitchen where Mom was getting supper ready. She was putting spaghetti into a big pot of boiling water, and she was warming up the meat sauce in a frying pan. The kitchen smelled like heaven to a hungry 12 year old, but I didn't let it distract me as I charged up to Mom.

"Mom! Guess what? You're never gonna believe this! Albert can speak!"

Mom turned and gave me a happy smile, then she looked down at Albert. "Oh, he looks so much happier now that he's clean. And you gave him a name. Albert. That nice, honey. It seems to fit."

"No, Mom, wait — you don't understand. I didn't give him that name, he told it to me. He can speak. Really."

Mom's busy hands never missed a beat as she hustled around getting dinner ready for her family. I followed her around the kitchen, trying to get her to stop long enough to listen to the greatest news in the history of mankind.

"Mom, you gotta believe me! Albert can really speak!"

Mom stopped and turned around wearing that smile she gives me sometimes, the one that means, I love you, Jeff, but you're bothering me while I'm busy with five important things. She took a deep breath and let it out noisily, then she said, "Okay, baby. Let's hear Albert speak."

Albert sat on the floor a few feet away, big brown doggie eyes watching the conversation with loyal canine intensity, cocking his head from side to side like those cute, well-trained dogs do in TV shows.

I gave Albert a pleading look. "Come on, Albert. You gotta do this for me. Speak to Mom. Please?"

After a short pause, Albert looked right at Mom and spoke one word in fluent dog language. "Woof!" Then his tongued lolled out and he panted like he was waiting for a pat on the head.

Mom grinned from ear to ear, proud as a peacock that our new dog could do such a clever trick. She looked at me and said, "Wonderful, Honey! Maybe you could teach him shake hands, too."

I heaved a huge sigh of frustration, knowing this wasn't going to work. I glanced helplessly at Albert — and he was sitting there with one paw held up, ready to shake Mom's hand. It was exactly the kind of thing witty Uncle Ralph would do.

In a defeated voice I said softly, "He already knows how to shake hands, Mom."

Mom was back at the task of fixing dinner, moving around the kitchen with unstoppable energy like some perfectly programmed machine which knew where every was and where everything went and when everything needed to me done.

I backed up slowly towards the kitchen door, hoping not to get run over by the Super-Mom Express as she zipped around on invisible tracks. I knew Albert had me beaten and I might as well give up. As long as he hung around acting like a normal mutt in front of Mom and Dad, my claims that he could talk would just get me a quick trip to a doctor, who would start asking me embarrassing questions like was I doing drugs and had I been hearing strange voices lately.

At the door, when I felt like I was at a safe distance, I turned and said, "So, are we going to keep Albert?"

Mom stopped and turned to give a me her complete attention for a moment. She pondered the question, then she said, "Well, I hadn't actually planned on keeping him, Sweetie. I was just sort of thinking about giving him a good dinner and a place to stay tonight. Then tomorrow we could find him a nice home."

This was not the answer I wanted to hear. In spite of the fact that Albert was gong to torture me by making me keep his amazing secret, I still wanted to have the world's only talking dog.

I gave Mom my very best oh-poor-me look and said, "Mom, please let me keep him. I think he really wants to stay here. And . . . if he could talk, I'll bet he would tell you that himself." I glanced down and gave Albert an angry look.

Albert just looked at Mom and said, "Woof!", again. His tongue popped back out while he panted in a friendly manner, and his wagging tail thumped the kitchen floor.

Mom gave Albert a warm smile, obviously thinking that in spite of the fact that he was a skinny, ragged dog, he seemed mighty eager to please his kind-hearted hostess.

"Well . . . okay. I'll consider it." Mom said finally. "On one condition. If you make an A on that big science report due this Friday, Albert can stay."

I just stood there looking at my mother like she'd just told me I was adopted. Then the words of disbelief flooded out. "But Mom, that's not fair! You know I stink at science! I'll never get an A on that report!"

Mom put her hands on her hips and stood dangerously straight and tall. It was her that's-my-final-word look, and I knew I was doomed. In a cold, level voice, she said, "How bad do you want to keep Albert?"

I hemmed and hawed and faltered and dithered, and then I finally said, "I want to keep him real bad, Mom."

Mom crossed her arms and tapped her foot as she looked at me — always a sure sign that I had the same chance of winning this argument as snowballs have in notoriously hot places. Without another word I turned and headed upstairs to work on the science report. Even though the teacher had assigned it two weeks ago, I had barely started. And I only had two days to finish it.

I plodded up the stairs slowly, each step taking me closer and closer to a desk in my room that had a science book and papers and pencils spread across it — but no science report that was going to get me an A from the teacher and the right to keep the world's only talking dog as a pet.

When I got to my room I sat down at the desk and looked over the few pages of notes I'd made several days ago. They looked pretty lame, and I knew that it would take a miracle to turn that mess into a good report.

I looked down at Albert, who was sitting next to me, gazing up with hopeful eyes and a pink tongue that hung out in a friendly manner while he panted optimistically. His wagging tail was making a soft drumming sound on the carpet.

"Well, Albert . . . " I said forlornly. "I gave it my best shot. I'm sorry. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and warm. You'll have a nice day to look for a new home."

Albert stopped panting, stopped wagging, and pulled his tongue in quickly. In a puzzled tone he said, "Hey, wait a second. We had a deal. You're not going to let a measly little science report stop you from having a great dog like me for a pet, are you?"

I gazed down at the floor, my face a portrait of shame and regret. I couldn't even look Albert in the eye as I said, "Ah, heck . . . I got about as much chance of getting an A on this report as you do of getting elected president."

Albert's tone showed no sympathy as he looked up at me with obvious impatience. "Oh, really? Have you seen some of the presidential candidates for the next election, Jeff old buddy? Frankly, I'm not that impressed. I think I could beat 'em."

I didn't know quite what to make of this, but it was obvious that Albert wanted me to stop feeling sorry for myself. "Albert, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that before I can run for president, I'll need a stable home and a very clever 12-year-old campaign manager. So, I think we better get work on that science report. It ain't gonna write itself, you know."

I squirmed around on my chair, reluctant to tell Albert that I just didn't know how a write a good report — certainly not one that would get me an A. Finally I drew a deep breath and decided that the least I could do for Albert was give it my best shoot. But I hated to think how disappointed he was going to be when the report came back Monday with a lowly C across the top.

"Okay, Albert, I'll try. But the last science report I wrote was pretty lame."

Albert actually managed to wink at me — a pretty good trick for a dog — and he said, "Hey, what are so worried about? You've got me to help you. And I'm pretty good at science." Then he paused and said, "By a strange coincidence, my last owner was a rocket scientist with NASA. I let him know I could talk, after I was sure he could keep it a secret. And I learned a lot of stuff while hanging around him. In fact, I turned out to be smarter than he was! That's why he gave me the name Albert."

With a puzzled expression I said, "I don't get it. What's so special about the name Albert?"

"Nothing really," he said softly. "But you didn't ask what my last name is."

"Your last name? I've never heard of a dog with a first and last name."

"Of course not." Now Albert was actually smiling -- which is a very good trick for a dog. "But you never heard of a talking dog either."

"Hmmm. Good point. So, what is your last name, Albert?"

He held my gaze for dramatic effect, then he answered in a soft voice.

"It's Einstein," he said quietly. "Now . . . let's get to work on that report, kid."

_________________
____________
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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Captain Starlight
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Joined: 22 Apr 2022
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2024 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A great idea for a children's book. Based on your posted artwork here, you could illustrate it.
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